New Investigation Shows That Some Addiction Centers are Targeting Unions and May Be Taking Advantage of Members

Imagine being burnt out on the job, or asking for help because of addiction, only to be taken as a virtual prisoner while your union benefits are drained. That’s what some teachers from New Jersey are alleging after seeking help through their union. A joint investigation by Stat and the Boston Globe has uncovered the troubling allegations regarding some addiction centers.

The “Treatment”

According to the investigation, New Jersey public school teachers were sent to the Recovery Institute of South Florida after asking their union to find them addiction or mental health treatment. They had been promised a spa-like atmosphere, but after their phones, credit cards and driver’s licenses were taken, they discovered a rundown building cited for numerous issues.

STAT and The Boston Globe interviewed 10 people treated at the Recovery Institute of South Florida over the last five years. They all had similar complaints “cookie-cutter treatment,” and mostly free time with little addiction help. They also say they were told if they left early their jobs would be at risk, even if they were there voluntarily.

The teachers allege that they were “essentially trapped” while their health insurance was billed tens of thousands of dollars. The investigation says that it’s not a coincidence these addiction centers are targeting unions across the country.

Targeting Unions

The article says union members around the United States are finding themselves in similar predicaments. Apparently, the treatment center operators target these workers because they usually have great insurance benefits that pay for long stays in addiction centers. Most of the time union members need a health care provider’s clearance to return to work, meaning that some people feel trapped and must stay at the addiction centers despite the level of care.

The article quotes Ken Serviss who is the executive director of the Allied Trades Assistance Program in Philadelphia. ATAP oversees substance abuse treatment benefits for several unions. He says these addiction centers are “definitely keeping people to make money.” Serviss claims the centers know they have leverage over these workers and they are using it to bill insurers millions.

The investigation found that many “unscrupulous operators” of addiction centers are being spurred on by the country’s opioid crisis. STAT and The Globe have published a series pieces that highlight how patients are often recruited by “brokers” that are working for, and in some cases own, treatment centers. These brokers often provide perks for union leaders who help in employee assistance programs. According to the articles, the entire process has created a referral program that leaves the people seeking treatment in the cold.

No Standard of Treatment

The article also highlights another issue that is contributing the shoddy treatment that some union workers are being exposed to — the lack of guidelines for addiction treatment in the first place. Apparently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recognizes that people with addiction progress at different rates and the longer that someone is in treatment the better the results will be. This lack of a standard approach means that some addiction centers can make sure union works are charged for the maximum amount of time and services, regardless of the type of care they receive.

Many of the New Jersey patients that took part in the investigation said they weren’t trying to stop treatment, they just wanted better services and to be closer to home. Officials at the RISF declined to comment for the story.

Jeffrey A. Newman represents whistleblowers.